Every now and then, I notice something about myself. And then I look around and I notice this in other people as well. Here is what I notice:
Some of us prefer leadership over friendship.
And here’s why I think that happens sometimes. When you are a leader, you often find yourself a bit relationally distanced from the people you are leading. Usually, it doesn’t feel like this is true as it’s happening. As we mentor, teach and influence the lives of people it’s all highly relational. But just because there is a relationship doesn’t mean there is intimacy.
Being a leader sometimes allows us to be gatekeepers of intimacy.
We can decide which information gets shared, how that information is edited for content and how we want to steer those that we’re leading. If we’re honest, some of us prefer to be the leader because it allows us to set the thermostat of intimacy we prefer in relationships.
Intimacy requires trust and most of us trust ourselves more than other people.
Having peers can be hard because peers don’t always feel safe. Have you ever met someone who is a spectacular speaker or teacher but you notice that they really struggle to have peer relationships? Or perhaps someone once mentored you but as you matured the relationship just fell apart? Have you ever trusted someone and they failed you?
The truth is that friendship is often harder than leadership.
By nature, peers are like us – warts and all. To have peers is to have someone who knows our insecurities and dysfunctions up close. In peer relationships, we’re not heroes or icons. We’re just us.
Friendship requires mutuality.
It requires a person to be known. Friendship is risky. Friends will definitely hurt or disappoint us. Sometimes people won’t just dislike our ideas. They will dislike us. So we keep ourselves safely locked within the bubble of leadership – where we can maintain a posture of elder teacher, looking down on those we are teaching as people in need of us. It gives us a sense of safety and security.
One of the tools some of us leaders use is the ability to create a public persona.
Over time, the persona of activist, missionary, pastor, Bible study leader or professional can actually become who we are. We become like the Wizard of Oz. We use smoke and special effects to dazzle the world while we stay hidden away from people safely behind the curtain. We become scared that without being a leader, we will lose our relevance and purpose. We become scared that there is too much at risk (all the people depending on our leadership), so we release mutual friendships in place of professional relationships.
Friendships dismantle personas in favor of real life.
Healthy friendships are like spotlights shining on us. They make everything about us more vivid – the good and the bad. Friends celebrate us but aren’t enamored with us. Friends appreciate our gifts but speak up about our weaknesses. Friends aren’t tricked by our sales pitches or card tricks. Friends don’t settle for photoshopped versions of us. And neither does God.
A life without intimacy is not the abundant life Jesus wants for us.
It’s easy for us to fill our lives with new ventures, responsibilities and even people while avoiding emotional intimacy with the people closest to us. Some of us gorge our schedules full of activity and leave only a few bread crumbs for our closest friends, our spouse, our kids and God. And then we wonder why we feel alone.
When we feel that people really know us, we also feel loved.
Unless we feel known, we won’t believe we’re truly loved. If we don’t feel truly loved, we won’t feel relationally and emotionally safe. When we don’t feel safe, we will feel compelled to use our tricks – including our leadership gifts – to prove our worth and teach others to do the same. While hiding behind leadership can sometimes make us feel safe, the truth is that when we build our foundation on anything but relational intimacy with God and others, we’re hurting ourselves and those we’re leading.
We cannot be healthy leaders unless we give a few people access to who we really are.
God wants us to connect and that means that we have to let a few people in our lives really know who we are – our unedited life story and our desires. The stakes are too high for us to waste our lives hiding behind personas. These trusted friends have to be given regular opportunities to both celebrate who we are as well as question our decisions.
We have to believe that being known by others is worth the risk. It will transform our intimacy with God and transform how we lead.